Doing business legally in England and Wales

Short-term business visitors to the UK

Visitors can come to the UK for certain business activities, including:

  • attend meetings, conferences, seminars and interviews
  • give a single or short series of lectures and speeches, provided that these are not organized as commercial events and do not bring any profit to the organizer
  • negotiate and sign agreements and contracts
  • attend trade shows, for promotional purposes only, provided that the visitor does not sell directly
  • conduct site visits and inspections
  • collect information for their employment abroad
  • be advised of the requirements of a UK-based client, provided that any work for the client is carried out outside the UK

Visitors working for a company with employees in the UK can provide training and share knowledge on internal projects.

Visitors may advise, consult and troubleshoot activities related to a specific project, but this cannot involve working directly with or for clients (for longer-term intra-company transfers, see below).

An overseas lawyer can advise a UK-based client on a specific international dispute and/or international transaction.

Visitors can stay in the UK for up to six months.

Depending on the nationality of the visitor, it may not be necessary to apply in advance for a standard visitor visa for the UK.

Frequent visitors from visa-requiring countries can apply for standard long-term visitor visas lasting two, five or 10 years, with a maximum stay of six months for each visit.

Long-term work in the UK

From January 2021, the UK government introduced a new immigration system for hiring non-UK workers.

The UK’s points-based system treats EU and non-EU citizens equally.

Irish citizens can continue to enter, live and work freely in the UK.

Some of the eligible routes for foreign nationals wishing to work in the UK from January 2021 include:

Skilled Worker Route

The Skilled Worker visa is available when there is a job offer from a UK company with a sponsorship license.

There are minimum wage levels that must be adhered to and speaking English at an intermediate level is required.

This visa can be extended as long as the applicant continues to meet the eligibility criteria.

After five years, you can apply for indefinite leave to stay in the UK.

See UK government advice on the skilled worker visa

Intra-Company Transfer Routes (ICT)

There are two types of intra-company visas:

  • intra-company transfer – employees of multinational companies can be transferred by their overseas employer to a UK branch of the organisation. The UK employer must have a certificate of sponsorship.
    To be eligible you must have worked for your employer overseas for more than 12 months, unless you are receiving a salary of £73,900 a year or more. There is a minimum wage of £41,500.
    The maximum duration of the visa is five years over a six-year period if paid less than £73,900 a year or nine years over a 10-year period if paid more
  • intra-company graduate trainee – this visa is for transfers to the UK as part of a higher education program for managerial or specialist positions. You must have worked for your employer abroad for at least three months.
    There is a minimum wage of at least £23,000.
    The visa lasts for 12 months and cannot be extended, but can be reapplied after spending at least three months working for the employer outside the UK up to a maximum stay of five years within a six year period .

See UK government advice on intra-company visas

Temporary worker – international agreement

This visa allows service providers to fulfill contracts with clients in the UK as an employee of a contracted overseas company (contracted service provider) or as an independent professional.

The contracting company must provide a certificate of sponsorship.

Citizens of countries that are signatories to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) can stay for six months out of a 12-month period or for the duration of the contract, whichever is shorter.

Citizens of the EU or Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein can stay for 12 months of any 24 month period or the duration of the contract, whichever is shorter.

See the UK Government’s advice on the International Temporary Work Agreement Visa

Representative of a branch abroad

This visa is for a representative of an overseas company planning to set up either a first UK branch or a first wholly-owned subsidiary.

The employee must hold a leadership position in the company (but not own or control a majority of it) and have full authority to make decisions on their behalf.

Overseas branch representatives may stay for an initial period of three years, which can be extended for an additional two years.

After five years, you may be able to settle permanently in the UK.

You may be eligible for this visa if the company already has a branch or subsidiary in the UK but it is not yet established and you can replace a former Sole Representative.

You can not:

  • work for any other company
  • stay in the UK if the sole representation contract is terminated by your employer
  • switch from this visa to another visa category

See the UK government’s guidance on representative companies overseas

You may be eligible for other types of visas that are not listed here. For more information, visit the UK government visa and immigration website.